North Korean workers in China engaging in “buying spree”

North Korean workers entering a store in Dandong, China
North Korean workers entering a store in Dandong, China. Image (taken in June 2019): Daily NK

North Korean laborers in China are reportedly buying and sending large quantities of goods back home. Due to international sanctions, many are required to leave the country by the end of the year.

“North Korean workers who come to China without visas are using their earnings to buy a lot of things,” a China-based source told Daily NK. “When they return to North Korea each month, they bring these goods back home before returning to China.”

This “buying spree” waged by North Korean workers in China is due to the restrictions on new work visas by the Chinese government and is magnified by the large numbers of North Korean workers who have entered the country without visas. The laborers are making the most of their trips home to North Korea each month as a way to earn extra cash.

“When the workers head back to Korea to renew their sojourn statuses, they give the goods to their families, who wait at local customs offices,” he said.

Chinese customs officials do not have a problem with this because the workers are not breaking any Chinese laws. Nor do customs officials prevent the same workers from re-entering China. They simply care about whether the workers have “working visas” or not; Chinese officials do not have an interest in what they are doing in China.

North Koreans who have permission to visit family members in China are allowed to take back three boxes weighing a total of 70 kilograms per person. The workers send all these goods back to North Korea for sale in the local markets.

“It’s not clear when the North Korean laborers will have to leave China, so many are buying goods that will sell well in North Korea,” said the source.

“Their families in North Korea sell the goods in local markets to earn money to support themselves.”

Each month, large numbers of North Korean workers gather at stores in north-east China before returning to North Korea to renew their sojourn status. They purchase TVs, rice cookers and other home appliances, along with clothes, shoes and bags.

Only those North Koreans with family members who can travel to Sinuiju (near the Chinese border) or those with family living in Sinuiju engage in this kind of activity, the source said.

While the Chinese authorities are not issuing any new work visas to North Koreans, there are still new workers entering the country without visas who are working in local factories and restaurants.

“It’s a pain to have to return to North Korea each month to renew their sojourn status, but many know that a lot of money can be made,” said another Daily NK source base in China.

“North Korea’s economy is not doing so well, so many young people are competing with each other to go to China.”